SWANSEA Council has come top or nearly top of the class in many of its education and teaching services, according to Estyn inspectors.
Estyn’s latest assessment of the council’s education service was very positive, although much of it related to the three years before Covid in March 2020. A two-year inspection pause ended in February this year.
The phrase “strongest in Wales” cropped up more than once in Estyn’s marking of Swansea’s education homework, although inspectors recommended the authority reviewed post-16 education provision and strenghtened Welsh-medium provision in all ages
Between September 2017 and March 2020 they inspected 26 primary schools, eight secondary schools and Swansea’s pupil referral unit. From February to July 2022 Estyn visited eight Swansea primary schools. None of them were placed in any form of follow-up.
Standards were excellent in three primary schools and good in 23 primary schools.
Of the eight secondary schools, standards were excellent in two, good in five and adequate in one. Standards were judged as good in the pupil referral unit.
Estyn said these judgements were the strongest of any local authority in Wales during the same period.
The secondary school judged to have adequate standards was placed into the category of Estyn review, and was later removed in December 2021.
Estyn’s report said Swansea schools had a particularly strong record of improvement, with outcomes the strongest in Wales in the three years leading up to Covid.
The performance of pupils at the end of key stage 4 between 2017 and 2019 was above or well above standards in similar schools.
Inspectors also said the performance of pupils eligible for free school meals was consistently above national averages.
Estyn found a wide range of support and interventions for pupils with behavioural and emotional diificulties.
The number of pupils progressing to year 11 and remaining in school until the end of the academic year was consistently higher than national averages.
In the school inspections between September 2017 and March 2020, the proportion of schools that received a judgement of good or excellent for well-being and attitudes to learning was higher than the national average.
Another area described as a notable strength was the uptake of the authority’s counselling service and the impact this service had on learners’ well-being.
In the three-year period prior to the pandemic, said Estyn, most schools inspected were judged to have good or excellent leadership and management – a better profile than in any other council in Wales.
The education service has supported a project which enables aspiring deputy head teachers to swap schools for a year and gain valuable experience in a school in a “notably different context”.
Estyn’s report said the profile of inspection outcomes for teaching quality was better in Swansea than in any other local authority in Wales in the three years prior to the pandemic.
Although the report cited some strong collaboration between schools for post-16 provision, the degree of collaboration involving other schools with sixth forms and other providers had declined in recent years. As a result, the curriculum available to learners was more limited than it used to be. A new strategy aimed to improve this.
Estyn said the capacity for Welsh-medium education had gradually increased in Swansea, but provision for early years and schools was not equally accessible across the county at present.
Estyn’s report said the council had prioritised education funding in recent years and also capital funding for new schools and school upgrades.
In 2021-2022, the council’s net education budget was around £190 million. The delegated school budget per pupil was£5,236, which was slightly below the Wales average.
There was an underspend in the authority’s education budget last year and the year before, but that followed three overspending years.
All of Swansea’s 77 primary schools and eight comprehensives had a surplus budget as of March 31, 2022.
Estyn said the council had strong processes for keeping in touch with vulnerable school leavers, particularly in the summer and autumn after they finished school.
Senior education officers were committed to working with schools to improve support for pupils at risk of disengagement, and ensure that their “education other than at school” provision met their needs.
The report added that the director of education and her team had reflected well on their work with schools during the pandemic and identified aspects that they were keen to maintain and build upon.
Inspectors also said a review of the council’s additional learning needs strategy resulted in a stronger strategy, with good progress in delivering the actions identified.
Cllr Robert Smith, cabinet member for education and learning, said it was reassuring to see his positive view of education officers and school staff echoed by Estyn.
“In Swansea we will always strive to do better and we will work to further build on what has been achieved,” he said.
“I would like to thank our officers, head teachers, teachers and all school staff for their continued efforts. Most importantly I must praise our pupils and their families for their continued support of our schools.”